November 27, 2004
The Way of Grace Is Clearly Different
Luke 14:1; 7-14
The subject today is grace and I want to show that “The Way of Grace Is Clearly Different”.
I. In How We Think of Ourselves
II. In How We Treat Others
III. In How We Are Rewarded
The Word of God for our study this Sunday is found in Luke 14:1, 7-14:
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched….
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Folks, Jesus often taught using parables.
In fact, Mark tells us in his Gospel that Jesus “did not say anything to [the people] without using a parable” (Mark 4:34).
Once, Matthew writes, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:10-16)
So Jesus not only expected, but in some cases intended, that the Pharisees and all the people that opposed him and his message would not understand what he meant when he used a parable.
Certain things that he had to say were only for the ears and hearts of believers — they would have been wasted on his enemies.
But this time, at this prominent Pharisee’s Sabbath dinner, Jesus spoke in parables that even the most self-righteous and hostile Pharisee would understand.
There may not have been any believers in the house that day, but anyone there who heard would have understood.
Which means that I probably don’t have to work very hard to explain the meaning of the two parables Jesus spoke in our Scriptures today.
Even with 2000 years and a different cultural context separating us from Jesus’ audience, you can likely relate to how certain people have too high an opinion of themselves, and you can imagine the intense embarrassment someone would feel to be escorted, before everyone else’s eyes, from the place of greatest honor down to the place of least honor.
And you yourself probably know people who pretty much only go out of their way or do nice things for people who can do something for them.
Just think of the number of guest lists for weddings that have been determined by the size of the gifts the people invited might bring.
And since the meaning of what Jesus had to say at this Sabbath dinner was quite clear and vividly illustrated, the point Jesus was making was also clear.
Jesus was not really that concerned about telling dinner guests where to sit or hosts whom to invite.
What he really wanted to get through everyone’s heads — and hearts — was that the way they believed, thought, and acted was not God’s way.
It wasn’t — and isn’t — the way truly righteous people behave, because believers are not concerned with self-promotion and self-glorification.
Christ’s way is clearly different, and Jesus wanted these Pharisees — and everyone, really — to look to God’s grace instead of their own interests.
Now, to many people, “grace” isn’t much more than just a word.
They’re aware that it has some kind of religious meaning, but they’re not exactly sure what.
They just know that Christians think grace is amazing — from the song, Amazing Grace.
The better informed in our society will recognize that grace has something to do with salvation — with how or why people get to heaven — but that’s often about the extent of their knowledge of grace.
So let’s review.
What is grace?
Grace is God’s undeserved love for undeserving sinners.
Now if I assume that every one of us here today knows that, and if we all confess clearly that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone — then we’ve learned a wonderful truth!
Well, even for us there might be some trouble making the connection: what does grace have to do with how we think and live?
That’s a good question.
Jesus probably would have been happy if one of the Pharisees had asked him that.
They didn’t, but he showed them anyway — he showed them the connection between the love of God and Christian humility.
I. You see, a believer in Christ has a completely different idea of self-worth.
Most of the world finds self-worth in what a person does or has done — doctor, parent, athlete, president, hero, etc.; what a person is — race, class, height, beauty, brains, etc.; or they find their worth in how one is honored by other people — salary, rank, privilege, awards, influence, etc.
But the Christian knows God’s law, and realizes that what he has done and keeps on doing is sin — he breaks every one of his Creator’s commands in one way or another, and keeps on doing it, because his sinful nature always wants to go the opposite way from what God wants.
And the believer knows that she is a sinner just like every other human being on the planet — she understands that she is desperately in need of forgiveness and absolutely unable to save herself.
And anyone who follows the way of grace understands that we do not deserve any honor from God, because our sin and rebellion merit us only death and hell.
Understanding and accepting these things does a pretty good job of humbling a person — it’s hard to think too highly of yourself when you know you’re scum — but that’s really not what makes it possible for a believer to think and act the way Jesus encourages us here.
What makes the difference is God’s grace — we realize that despite our natural unworthiness God loves us.
We instead represent the ultimate worth to him, the Lord of the Universe — in fact, we meant so much to him that he sacrificed his own Son, sending him to suffer and die on the cross to take away each and every one of our sins for each and every one of us.
If we matter that much to God — and we do — all people do — then human ideas of status and honor fade into insignificance.
I mean, who cares about the best seat at a wedding reception when you’re already a guest of honor at Christ’s never-ending and glorious feast in heaven?
Grace also teaches believers, who have been given Christ’s perfection, to put others first, the same way Jesus did.
We are not only recipients of God’s love by faith, we are also its distributors, and so we love our neighbors without regard for who or what they are or aren’t.
And I suppose I should also add that we love our fellow believers, spouses, and siblings the same way — even when everything your brother does rubs you the wrong direction, and you’re convinced he does it on purpose, even then you love him, because that’s how God loves you.
You see now how radical a change God’s grace makes in the way a believer thinks and behaves.
This is not at all the way the world does things, although there are other hints in this world that help show that this is God’s way.
My family has visited a bird park, which has hundreds of kinds of birds from all over the world.
And one of the beautiful things about that park is not just seeing the birds, but listening to their beautiful songs.
There’s nothing quite like standing there, transfixed by the joyful melodies of eagles and emus, penguins, peacocks, and pelicans, flamingos and vultures!
Oh — I can see some of you are looking at me funny now.
Because everybody knows that birds like that don’t sing!
It’s not the big ones, not the ones that draw everybody’s attention.
In fact, it’s the smallest birds — the ones you might not even know were there if not for their voices — that sing the sweetest melodies.
In the same way the sweetest music in the world comes from Christians who consider themselves small and humble themselves before others and the Lord — because they know their true worth.
They know their worth to others and to the Lord, and so their lives and words are music to His ears.
And such humility is not without earthly rewards, either.
As Jesus’ parable indicates, when you humble yourself, you allow others to lift you up — and they may very well lift you up higher than you would have placed yourself.
Think about it — isn’t a promotion or award given to you by your boss for your work well-done so much better than one you fought and schemed and bargained for?
And what about kids — aren’t they happier and more successful with privileges their parents give them, because they believe they’re ready, than with things parents think they ought to have just because they’re a certain age or because their friends have them or simply because they want them?
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
25 years or so ago, Mac Davis had a tongue-in-cheek song on the charts whose refrain began, “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.”
Actually, for the Christian, it’s completely the opposite: it’s easy to be humble, because we’re perfect in every way.
Folks, if we tried being as humble as Jesus calls for here, and to do so in our own strength, we’d be easily tripped up — wouldn’t last very long.
But we haven’t only been forgiven our sins — we’ve also been given Christ’s perfection, and no one has ever been more humble than the Son of God made flesh.
Perfection does not mean pride, it means humility.
II. A while back when I drove by the Auto Zone on Hillcrest there were some girls out by the road with a sign that said, “Free Car Wash!”
I didn’t have time to pull in, but I was pretty sure of one thing I would have found if I had: the car wash wasn’t really free.
The whole idea is that they’ll wash your car and you’ll feel so appreciative (or simply obligated) that you’ll make a donation to whatever cause they’re promoting — perhaps even paying more than you would have paid for a professional car wash.
Although I’m not finding fault with the cheerleaders or soccer team or whoever they were, that’s a good illustration of what Jesus was speaking against in his second parable here — doing something good for someone with the expectation of getting something good in return.
The way of grace is different — Jesus encourages us to do good for those who cannot repay us in kind, whether it’s feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, or helping the handicapped.
This is not easy, by the way.
Our world has us pretty well conditioned to not do anything for nothing, and our sinful nature doesn’t like the “wasted effort” of helping people who can’t help us.
But once again, God’s grace makes the difference in our hearts.
Because that’s exactly the way God’s love works, isn’t it?
Think of all the things he has given, gives, and will give not only to you, but to everyone on the earth.
Physically we have sun and rain and food and shelter and clothing and countless things besides; spiritually we have the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and the sacraments.
Has the Lord given us any of those things expecting to be repaid in kind?
Of course not — and that again is God’s grace at work.
Believers have that same love at work in their lives, and I probably don’t have to tell you how to show it, because the opportunities to do so fill your life and are unique to each one of you.
Maybe it’s writing a check to charity.
For the young person, maybe it’s inviting the unpopular girl to your birthday party.
Perhaps it’s finally actually responding to that homeless guy on the street near your church.
For the business man, maybe it’s offering a job to a single parent without references.
You know — and if you pray about it, God will open up more and more opportunities to be like Him in giving to those who can’t give back to you.
III. But you will get something back.
Jesus says here that we will be blessed for the love we show and give to others.
We “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Our reward and our treasure is in heaven.
Which means, of course, that we can’t see our rewards in the here and now when we do things.
That’s OK, though, because we can still be confident that they’re infinitely greater than anything we could gain here on earth.
There’s a story told that years ago, late on a stormy night in Philadelphia, an elderly couple walked wearily into a hotel.
They approached the night clerk at the desk and practically begged him for a room.
Apparently there were three conventions in town, and every hotel was filled to capacity.
"Are there any rooms left anywhere?" the old man inquired.
"I’m sorry. All of our rooms are taken," the clerk said. "But I can’t send a nice couple like you out into the street and in the rain at one o’clock in the morning. Would you perhaps be willing to sleep in my room? It may not be what you’re used to, but it will be good enough to make you folks comfortable for the night."
When the couple declined, the young man pressed it.
"Don’t worry about me; I’ll be just fine,” the clerk said. “Just take my room.”
So the couple agreed.
As he paid his bill the next morning, the older man said to the clerk, "You know what? You are the kind of man who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States. Maybe someday I’ll build one for you."
The clerk didn’t think much about that, and two years passed.
The clerk had almost forgotten the incident when he received a letter from the old man.
It recalled that stormy night and enclosed a round-trip ticket to New York, asking the young man to pay them a visit.
The old man met him in New York, and led him to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.
He then pointed to a great new building there, a palace of reddish stone, with steeples and towers thrusting up to the sky.
"That," said the older man, "is the hotel I have just built for you to manage."
"You must be joking," the young man said.
"I can assure you that I am not," said the older man, a sly smile playing around his mouth. The old man’s name was William Waldorf Astor, and the magnificent structure was the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
You see, when we give without worrying about being repaid, we can’t foresee the rewards of our kindnesses.
But Jesus guarantees they will be repaid in countless blessings at the resurrection of the righteous — at the end of the world, when He comes to take his faithful people home with him to heaven.
Because that’s where the way of grace leads us: heaven.
That’s where we belong, and even though we’re strangers and aliens in this world, we still live as citizens of heaven.
We know our true worth.
We know our place and our purpose, and so we live with humility toward ourselves and love for others.
Because we live by what we have been saved by: the grace of God in Jesus Christ.